We need the old Spider-Man 2099. We need his magic.
Miguel O’Hara swings back into his own monthly title this week in Spider-Man 2099 #1, with none other than co-creator Peter David returning to handle writing duties. The first issue marks a serviceable yet somewhat muted return for the character, with flat plot points and occasionally stilted artwork weighing things down but enough action, humor, and hints at future conflicts to make Miggy’s second act worth taking in.
Noticeably absent from the debut issue are the pencils of original artist Rick Leonardi and the exciting future shock world he and David built in the title’s 1990s heyday.
Leonardi’s replacement, Will Sliney, is a talented artist and delivers beautifully rendered figures throughout, but his work feels somewhat statuesque against a story that’s lithe and jaunty. His characters look great, but come off as static. Hopefully his fluidity will increase as the series progresses and his familiarity with the cast evolves.
Hot off the heels of his reappearance in Superior Spider-Man, Miguel O’Hara is already set in 21st century New York as the issue opens. Peter David’s script gives us some hints of the old O’Hara snark, a darker, more mature and sarcastic strand than Peter Parker’s friendly neighborhood pluck or the youthful scrappiness of Miles Morales. A few choice staples from the classic series pop up– hologram assistant Lyla is back, Spidey 2099’s amazing costume remains pretty much unchanged, and uber-corporation Alchemax once again looms large in Miguel’s life.
Most comparisons to the old series end there. As O’Hara is shown apartment hunting in modern day Manhattan and blandly working as an assistant at his day job, it all feels like an underwhelming return for the character that was once introduced as a cocky super-scientist turned vigilante hero. Playing the role of “regular guy” seems like an ill fit. Miguel was never this predictable.
Spider-Man 2099 #1 doesn’t quite feel like a first issue at all, let alone a blockbuster one. Its nonchalant approach feels as weighty as an issue #11 or #45 and the story unfurls more like the beginning of a new arc than the kick-off of an entirely new era. It’s a weirdly toned down reintroduction for a character that’s been out of a solo book since the Clinton administration.
The key lacking element may also be the distinguishing feature of this book’s title — “2099”. The book could easily be titled Miguel O’Hara 2014. The question is, will that status quo be able to deliver the same level of excitement that the character’s future past previously did, let alone sustain a unique identity in a fairly ruthless comic marketplace? Part of what made the character initially so interesting to readers was the future world O’Hara and company inhabited. Perhaps, like Marty McFly, Spider-Man 2099 will need to get back to the future to fully find its mojo.
However, the issue is not devoid of charm or enjoyment. Miguel remains a brilliant piece of prognostication on Peter David’s part, and the 2014 of today increasingly resembles the 2099-by-way-of-1992 Miggy once called home. An interesting supporting cast of mostly women characters are introduced and set the stage for Miguel O’Hara’s immediate conflicts here in the 21st century.
One thread of the plot stands above the rest — a new force pursuing O’Hara from his own future. The time travel authority antagonist introduced by David is both ruthless and fun, and hopefully hints at a possible return to the 2099 landscape and all the great storytelling toys left behind there.
The future of Spider-Man 2099 is cloudy and tough to parse. The title brings back a great, historically underutilized character, but does so in a way that feels a bit stale. David lays enough groundwork in place to make issue #2 worth checking out, but the energy level and art execution need to limber up to match the character’s long-dormant potential.
Warts aside, the book gives one of Marvel’s most interesting and complex heroes a new platform and sets a series of conflicts in motion that make reading the endeavor worthwhile. Spider-Man 2099 #1 isn’t a home run, but it’s not a strikeout either.